Sunday, October 31, 2010

Turtletoes: Jackersville

I have a real sort of love-hate relationship with music. In the past few years, most of the new music I've been exposed to has been distastefully mediocre and homogenized, and much of the old music I used to listen to has become dry and dull. I fill my days with podcasts (, comedy, books, news and talk radio. Music can stay the fuck away. Stay away, Music! You're not welcome here. Not without handjobs and lollipops.

So, when invited to this blog and told it was to review old favorite albums long strayed, I thought to myself "Brian John Mitchell, what are you trying to get me into this time?! Goddammit!" I want no part of this. Why am I accepting the invite? What are you doing, fingerbrains? I was later told I didn't have to review an album, I could watch an old movie or read an old comic. But it was too late. I listened to something.

Here's my problem. I find all artists to be unreliable pretentious fucktards without any sense of fun or basic human decency, but I find musicians to be the absolute worst kind of artist, especially lyricists. Don't get me wrong - all my best friends are artists. They're also everything I just mentioned. Especially the musicians. Good lord, the musicians. I also think that any creative person who can become adept at their chosen outlet is an amazing human being with a fantastic capacity for mastering an instrument, be it brush or guitar. They're also just, y'know, pretentious scum. But man, lyricists (and poets) need to all go fuck themselves in the faces with a funstick.

Or this.

But back when I listened to music heavily, around '95 and '96, I was always searching for something new and different. I had a couple of friends fully entrenched in the indie music scene at the time - brothers Tim and Joe - and still are to this day. We all worked together at a movie theater, I was finishing up high school and getting ready for art school. I would often work the popcorn popping shift - 8 straight hours in a tiny hot room, popping corn. Luckily there was a stereo, and I would listen to anything and everything. Tim let me borrow a CD from a band called Turtletoes. He claimed to have gone to Ohio University with the primary musician - John Hughes III. I don't know if Tim was lying. He may have been, but it didn't matter, because that album blew my mind. I made a copy and listened to that thing 'til the tape broke. It got me through popcorn popping, art school, my night-manager job at a hotel, shoveling snow in one of the worst winters I can remember, and moving into my own place. I finally got my own copy of the CD back in 2001. It's been a few years since I last heard it all the way through, and so I made it my first choice for this blog.

Self-released from Hughes' own Chicago based Hefty Records, Jackersville was the only album put out under the guise of Turtletoes. In case you missed the connection, Hughes is indeed the son of the legendary filmmaker behind such movies as Baby's Day Out and Curly Sue. The album is a fantastic fusion of jazz and indie rock. Every song is hook-filled and memorable, while all at the same time discordant and schizophrenic. But there's not a track that doesn't have some part that will stick in your head for days. The tracks tend to switch back and forth between jazzy instrumental pieces and rockin' indie/fusion songs. There's no denying that I love the instrumentals far more than the tracks with lyrics. They all have a fantastic rhythm and composition that still reaches into my dead black heart and massages it back to life and gives me chills. Strung together, the instrumentals could be the soundtrack from some sort of Neo-Noir film in the vein of Robert Altman and Elliot Gould's version of Phillip Marlowe.

That said, the "song" songs are also incredibly listenable, enjoyable and catchy. The lyrics all reek of the ridiculousness of a musician high on his own ego and pretension, in a sort of post-Beck way, though this album hit before Beck fully enjoyed mainstream popularity (Odelay was still a year away). Hughes is also not a fantastic singer by any means, but I've never believed that a good singing voice is necessary to making an effective performance. Hell, I love Lemmy.

That guy.

I don't think I could ever go back to listening to this album as much as I did in 1996, but I still definitely love it as much as I did, if not more, due to the simple lack of music I find enjoyable nowadays. I would always welcome Jackersville into my CD player or Windows Media Player. The handjobs are little rougher nowadays, could use some lotion, but the lollipops are just as sweet.

Cranes: Self Non-Self

Like many Cranes fans,  The first introduction to the band was as openers for The Cure's Wish Tour in 1992.  They came across the stadium with Alison's helium voice over dark songs and an emphasis on piano and guitar noise whilst abstract rhythms echoed.  Immediately after the show the hunt was on for the only release available at the time in the states, Wings of Joy.  What I heard was probably the most original collection of sounds I'd heard up to that point in my life.  The subsequent albums became more pop oriented and older releases were pretty much impossible to find in US based CD shops and in an age before widespread internet usage it was a blessing when their first proper release Self Non-Self was re-released by Dedicated later in the 90's.

Unlike the later more song driven and pop oriented albums, Self Non-Self assaults you with the contrast between fragile vocals and the harsh throbbing rhythms.   Obvious influneces included the Birthday Party, but its much more controlled and not a free for all (probably as a result of the lack of drug use in this band in comparison), and I read that the Young Gods were a big influence but i've never really gotten around to listening to them to be able to accurately say it's true.  Self Non-Self is definitely an album that a.) stands the test of time  and b.) sounds like no other album I've heard which probably is why it stands that test of time.  It's not something I can listen to on a regular basis which is probably why I haven't listened to it in quite some time and as a result I'm probably going to be listening to Wings of Joy pretty soon too.   The harsh rhythms, noise guitar, and simplistic repetitive melody structures are industrial and goth influenced but not in the corny electrogoth way, instead offer something more unique that I'm finding a difficult time describing accurately.  It's a pity to hear where they wound up when you listen to where they came from.  
Highlights include "Focus Breathe" and the live version of "Reach."

The Chameleons: Strange Times

I first heard the Chameleons in 1987, right about the time they were about to break up for the first time. I was at an 'alternative' club night in Ann Arbor Michigan and the DJ had just played The Smiths' "How Soon Is Now?" How could you top it? The next song did. I had no idea who it was, but I just remember that creepy Gothy intro that beats the Cure at their own game before building to a U2-like epic of massive proportions. I remember asking out loud, who is this and some girl nearby saying, "that's the Chameleons, they're really intense." I ended up finding the "Swamp Thing" 12-inch and then getting the album before proceeding to find the import only first two albums Script of The Bridge and What Does Anything Mean? Basically. In those pre-internet days it took real work and luck to find certain imports. The Chameleons ended up becoming my favorite band for a long time, Strange Times being my favorite for the aforementioned "Swamp Thing" and the twin 8-minute centerpieces "Caution" and "Soul in Isolation." Strange Times captures mid-20's angst better than any record I can think of (one of my escapes from a crappy first marriage), probably no coincidence that it was produced by Dave Allen, the same man who applied the magic to other 'cheery' artists like The Cure and Sisters of Mercy. These days I'm well past my 20's and I almost never feel depressed; more often than not, I'm just pissed off. When the first two Chameleons albums were reissued last year, I spent a lot of time re-discovering them; the post-punk angst of those records really resonated with me. Yet that still didn't inspire me to go back to Strange Times. I just didn't want to go back to memories I associated with that record. Kind of like not wanting to really listen to Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures. You know the record is freaking good but do you really need a gateway drug to feeling sad for the sake of feeling sad. To cut to the chase, I pulled out Strange Times and yes, the best songs are as great as I remembered but a lot of side 2 isn't as good as I remembered. Very moody and introspective, which is probably why the band's set lists even back in the day largely consisted of songs from the first two albums. Weirdly enough, the Chameleons album that I like best these days is the one I liked the least back then, What Does Anything Mean? Basically.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Brian Jonestown Massacre: Take It From The Man!

I was pretty wrapped up in Britpop in the mid-'90s, but as that scene started to become a parody of itself, American bands like the Dandy Warhols, and, especially, Brian Jonestown Massacre stepped up to the plate and saved the day. The BJM released something like four albums in '95 and '96 and I remember Take It From The Man! as being my favorite from that era. BJM managed to combine the grace and songwriting chops of the best Brit shoegaze bands with a fierce and scuzzy garage rock sound that made The Yardbirds, Pretty Things and even numerous Back From The Grave and Nuggets era garage rock bands look tame in comparison. That said, I hadn't listened to this record in about five years until today, but what do you know the songs still sound as tense and urgent as they did back in '96 when my old friend Nigel at Newbury Comics in Cambridge, MA told me I needed to really buy this record. Take It From The Man! is the heaviest of the early BJM albums, but manages to have a few awesome down tempo songs like the Bowie tribute "[David Bowie I Love You] Since I Was Six."

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Mission UK: Carved in Sand

1988-92 seemed to be a peak in the British music scene’s output, most of the bands that formed in the late 70’s & early 80’s seemed to have released their best material during this time frame and a new crop of bands that would carry the torch were formed.  The Mission UK fell into the former category and since they formed from a split with Andrew Eldritch’s Sisters of Mercy, they’ve released a few albums all seeming to lead up to Carved in Sand.  It was probably their most successful release both commercially and artistically. I’m sure some research would prove that out but it’s not really the point of this review so I’m going to let readers google that on their own if they care.

I purchased this release on cassette at the PX based on the strength of hearing their cover of Aerosmith’s “Dream On” (which at the time I didn’t realize was a cover and wasn’t on this release unfortunately).  Carved in Sand is pieced together the way you’d imagine a live set would come across with songs bleeding into the other, heavy 80’s drums, a wash of reverb over the guitars and upfront vocals.  The thing about the Mission UK is that musically nothing really stands out but instead it all works together to form a cohesive backdrop for Wayne Hussey’s vocals.  Whom in my opinion sounds like Bono, if he actually cared about what he was singing.  It’s full of passion to the point that it’s almost whining.  Both a blessing and a curse for the Mission because on one hand it fits perfectly and adds a different element to the music on the other, it’s sometimes unbearable and borderline cheese filled.   The album kicks off with “Amelia” a sweet song about father/daughter relations which starts off with fast acoustic strumming and Hussey’s whine, calling out to Amelia and damning her fathers actions and for the next five songs the Mission UK delivers a strong, nostalgic and peculiar arena rock set of songs.  Highlights include “Butterfly on a Wheel” and “Deliverance”.  Things start winding down around “Grapes of Wrath,” which reminded me that when I had the cassette, I probably rarely listened to side B.  The songs on the later half of this release mostly sound like the first half but less catchy or interesting, the only exception being the acoustic closer “Lovely.”  This album would make for good traveling music, riding alone in a car for long distances.  It actually reminds me of going to Spain, probably because I purchased it around the time I took a trip there for the first time, although in reality I probably didn’t listen to it once on the trip and in all likelihood I heard Snap’s “I’ve Got The Power” and Technotronix’s “Pump Up The Jam” way more that week.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Sisters of Mercy: Some Girls Wander By Mistake

I bought this CD in 1993.  Pretty much the peak of my phase of being into the “goth scene” before getting fed up with how much of it was about fashion rather than music.  A part of getting this was that a girl I liked was into the song “Temple of Love.”  I was 18, so girls could still influence the music I listened to at least to a certain degree.  Even back then I remembered thinking this was a bit uneven, probably part of why I haven’t listened to it in about twelve years now.  It kicks off with “Alice” & me thinking, “Why haven’t I listened to this in so long?”  Then the rest of the record starts.  It totally has that production vibe of all the British proto-goth bands (Joy Division, Bauhaus, The Cure, etc.) & the weird swirling stereophonic reverbs remind me of when I used to take LSD & listen to this kind of music.  That probably is the best way to listen to a record like this.  Be 18 & depressed & lonely & intoxicated & trying to crawl into someone else’s brain to figure out how their vision of reality works & if yours is working properly (newsflash: it probably isn’t).  There are songs I like on here (“Alice,” “Heartland,” “Phantom,” “Body Electric,” “Adrenochrome”) & really take me back in time in a pleasant way.  Though it sounds incredibly like 1983 (when most of the songs were recorded), to me it sounds like 1993 & when I master time travel this might be the CD to take me back to that summer.

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